We all make shopping lists of the things to stop off for on the way home from work. In South Africa, mine would always start of with the four essentials: bread, milk, cat food and wine – not necessarily in that order of importance. South Africa is a wine producing nation, and we lived only 300m from the biggest wine shop in South Africa, right in the middle of pinotage and chardonnay country. Wine was a staple part of our diet, not in an alcoholic kind of way, but in the way that it becomes part of every meal when immersed into a wine-producing area, as the French and Italians do. Wine was not for special occasions. Sure, there were some wines that had ‘dinner party’ status, and others that were known as ‘every day wine’. Some of my favourite wines were not the most expensive, costing in the region of R30 (120B) a bottle. I see some of these same wines for sale here, for 600B a bottle – which makes me think twice before just buying a bottle to have with dinner.
Some things naturally go together (like Thursday nights and Lucky’s mojitos at the Maenam walking street market). For me, it is hard to separate wine with cheese. I love cheese, but cheese probably doesn’t like me so much. This tasty dairy product is the other item that seems really expensive in Thailand, obviously as it is a Western food. In South Africa, I would go through blocks of vintage cheddar and wedges of creamy blue cheese without a second thought. Here, the price of cheese definitely requires giving it a second thought – not a bad thing, as this smelly but tasty luxury definitely adds on the kilograms.
Besides my friends, family and pets, cheese and wine are probably the things I miss most from South Africa. Also worth a mention are tangy mayonnaise (all brands here seem so sweet), and Rooibos tea, worth a try if you ever go to South Africa. But, for all the things I have lost on the roundabout, I have gained more on the swings.
I love street food, as I have mentioned in previous columns. In this category, I include beach vendor food. I just love the mobile ‘kitchens’, offering fresh fruit, corn on the cob, and toasted sticky rice. If you are hungry, you only have to look around, and you will find someone selling something delicious to eat within a few metres. In South Africa, the paperwork and red tape to open such an enterprise means that it just won’t happen. I just love the simplicity of everything here, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of the locals. In the daytime, the beaches are laid out with deck chairs for sun-worshippers to use, only needing to order a drink at the resort concerned for the privilege of doing so. Again, in South Africa the red tape in order to lay out deck chairs on the beach would have been too off-putting to anyone inspired to start such a business or trend. I love the way the beaches transform at night – sun loungers pushed together become dining platforms, fairy lights and lanterns turn the beach into a magical affair.
If you buy local food, you can eat like a king. The seafood at the fresh markets is taken for granted by locals. In most other countries, seafood is a luxury item. Here, large prawns – fresh, not frozen – can be bought on the market for around 150B/kg. The frozen equivalent in South Africa would be about 600B/kg. Last week I strolled to the market for salad ingredients for dinner. A lettuce, some coriander, cherry tomatoes and spring onions cost me all of 20B.
As I write this, I realise that the things I have gained, or grown to love are too many to include in this one column, so they will be the inspiration for several more columns. Every expat will agree that the availability of a good massage is a definite perk of relocating here. My new essential shopping list: fresh fruit and veg, ice cold coconut, seafood for dinner, and a massage on the way home.
© Rosanne Turner